Fostering Civic Participation and Public Accountability through use of ICTs: East Africa
The Democratization process of the East African Countries still remains elusive as Civil and Political actors of Governments and top leadership remains major impediments in addressing the underlying problems to social evils such as corruption, poor governance, a declining press freedom and lack of respect for fundamental rights and freedom of its Citizens. The East African Countries of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania is still bogged down by high levels of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the delivery of public service, poor civic participation by Citizens and lack of feedback mechanisms from leaders to citizens in addressing major concerns that directly affects the well-being of communities. This has created a situation whereby we live in a society in which people are less informed about government functions and systems typically breeding an environment in which corruption and poor service delivery can thrive.
However, Civil Society Organisations in East Africa have moved a step further in ensuring that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be strategically used to improve access to public services, to increase the efficiency, transparency and accountability of government and political processes, as well as to empower citizens by enabling them to participate in government decision-making processes. At local levels, pro-poor ICT-based governance and public service delivery strategies and applications have been applied so as to contribute to poverty reduction and development within the larger context of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In 2011, The East African ICT4Democracy Network was set up with funding from the Swedish Program for ICT Support in Developing Regions (Spider) and composed of 7 partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Through the application of Information and communication technologies (ICTs), partners in the network continue to empower diverse communities in the region to hold their leaders accountable by monitoring service delivery and fighting corruption. The Network members using ICTs as a tool in the democratization process includes in Uganda, the Toro Development Network which operates in the Rwenzori regions of western Uganda.
Toro Development Network [ToroDev] implements a project that brings and converges the different ICT tools for increased public accountability and Civic participation in the region. The organization works and empowers journalist, Government leaders and stakeholders to ensure that they are more proactive in addressing the development concerns of the poor communities as well as catalyzing actions for a democratic engagement and accountability. The project according to its results, have trained many journalists, and registered successes in delivery of services through its approach of making an informed citizenry able to ask questions and leaders accountable to their electorates.
Transparency International in Uganda, uses ICTs in the Health Sector delivery in Northern Uganda, a community that has been regarded marginalized and also suffered the brunt of the LRA insurgency for more than a decade. This organization deploy a number of ICT tools including mobile phones, toll free lines and other strategies to ensure that the falling health in the communities of Northern Uganda and the country in general which is largely criticized is not on the brink of collapse but yet supporting the rural communities. They have trained health workers and empowered communities to be more alert to report cases of theft of drugs in health centers and absenteeism of health workers. They have also empowered leaders to be more accountable to its electorates always giving feedback and ensuring that there is public trust and confidence amongst the citizenzry.
Meanwhile, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) through her iParticpate project conducts Research to understand the issues behind lack or for citizen participation using a number of ICT tools. Through a project on catalyzing civic participation and democracy monitoring, CIPESA has carried out needs assessments including surveys of knowledge attitudes and practices among individuals, citizens, groups and local governments regarding utility, effectiveness and security of using ICTs in citizen participation and monitoring of democracy
WOUGNET, an organization with specialty in ICTs and Gender policy through its project ‘’Empowering local people and communities to monitor district service delivery’’ critically addresses the inclusion of women in democratic processes through the application of ICTs. Technical and Democratic processes are in themselves inaccessible for women due to the culture and the gender structure in place. WOUGNET applied both methods and challenged them simultaneously. Ihub Research in Kenya through its project ‘’M-Governance: exploring conditions for successful water governance through use of mobile phones’’ [m-Governance] in Kenya, illustrating further gains towards employing the use of mobile technology in Governance processes. The Commission on Human Rights and Good Governance [CHRAGG] in Tanzania have been conducting SMS for human Rights has brought its services closer to the people where Tanzanians can report and obtain feedback through a basic mobile phone.
Moses Owiny_Facilitator for the East African ICT4Democracy Network [ICT4DemEA]